Thursday, May 28, 2015

Flask of Eyes Characterization #4: Which Witch Is Magda?

In my various travels, and my intended attempts to peddle "Flask of Eyes", people have inquired about the story's insightful witch, Magda: which witch or witches in literature and/or cinema inspired her? Most folks are confident they can guess from whom the influence best stems, and some are, in fact, at least quasi-correct in their inferences. 

First off, the character was named after a coworker, who wished her name used for one my story leads. "Flask" was in its infancy at the time, but the real-life Magda is far too lovely to resemble a witch, or at least the type most of us associate with the term.

In this regard, Margaret Hamilton of "Wizard of Oz" became a most obvious inspiration for the character. Hamilton's Wicked Witch of the West isn't only a pop-cultural icon, but she sports an appealing shade of green, which I wished to apply to my own mystical entity. 

In a similar way, I suppose Billie Hayes' Witchie-poo, of "H.R. Pufnstuf" fame, also contributed to Madga's look. Even though Witchie-poo isn't green, the two have crossover appeal. After all, Hayes and Hamilton did appear together in "Paul Lynde's Halloween Special" in '76. Remember that one?

In other respects, EC's Old Witch (a companion host to the more noted Crypt Keeper) lingered somewhere in the back of my mind when I composed "Flask". There's something about the Old Witch's bulging-eye stare that I couldn't quite shake when my fingers tapped the keyboard. 

When it came to Magda's quirky, prophetic attributes, two famed trios crept into the mix: those from Shakespeare's "Macbeth" and the Stygian variations in "Clash of the Titans '81". 

In another childhood-based way, I owe much to the Aurora Salem Witch model kit. Though my least favorite among the series' monsters, it was nonetheless an item I often stared at (and tinkered with) as a kid. In truth, this sculpture holds a long-haul key to Magda's traditional witch design, and that brew she's stirring ...well, let's just say that Benjamin's genesis can certainly be traced to it. 

The most fascinating (and intuitive) attribution by a "Flask" reader is that actress Maria Ouspenskaya was an inspiration. Now, I must point out, the Ouspenskaya character my friend, Jim, had in mind isn't a witch, but rather a gypsy: Maleva, to be exact, who's prominently featured in the Universal classics, "The Wolf Man" and "Frankenstein Meets...".

This acknowledgement jives, for I do believe that on at least a subconscious level, the Ouspenskaya's character dictated much of Magda's maternal nature. Magda doesn't interact directly with the story's werewolf, "Lon Jr.", which would have made the link more evident, but all the same, Maleva's gracious disposition is very much akin to Magda's. 

Yeah, the theory is quite astute, and if you don't believe me, take a taste of "Flask" and see for yourself! Magda, for one, would be most pleased!

(A little reminder: "Flask" is still available for purchase in paperback and e-book form through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Damnation Books, as well as other fine, on-line sources in the U.S. and abroad!)

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

I saw Poltergeist (Retold)...

There's a fine line between what defines a remake and a reboot, I suppose. In either case, we're dealing with restarts, and in today's cinematic climate, any such variation implies the hope for further chapters. "Poltergeist 2015" is no exception. 

In the case of director Gil ("Monster House") Kenan and producer Sam "Evil Dead" Raimi's  "retelling", we're offered the same scenario as in the Tobe Hooper '82 classic: a family moves into a new home where they're tormented by malevolent, burial-ground spirits. Items in and around the house take on a life of their own: the towering tree, an eerie clown doll and a television set which acts as a conduit to another dimension. In essence, it's Richard Matheson's "Little Girl Lost", as previously and unofficially revised by Steven Spielberg. 

In the new "Poltergeist", screenwriter David Lindsay-Abaire has changed the family's name from Freeling to Bowen. There's Eric, the father (Sam Rockwell); Amy, the mother (Rosemarie Dewitt); the older sister, Kendra (Saxon Sharbino), the little brother, Griffin (Kyle Catlett) and the little sister, Madison (Kennedi Clements), who for all intents and purposes is a dead-ringer for Heather O'Rouke's iconic Carol Anne, but with jet-black hair. Like Carol Anne, Madison is lured into an unearthly realm, and try as her family may, they're at a loss as to how to retrieve her. (Now, that the Bowens are plagued in the same manner as the Freelings may simply mean that the ghosts prefer to toy with the same variables whenever they're available with any new family that emerges, but then again, a ghost fable by any other name...well, you get my drift.)

As in the original, a paranormal team is recruited to investigate Madison's abduction. Their leader is Dr. Brooke Powell (Jane Adams), and she and her crew are at a loss as to how to get Madison back. As such, Powell calls upon her ex, a ghost-hunter celebrity named Carrigan Burke (Jared Harris). 

Carrigan is this version's Tangina, but unlike Zelda Rubinstein's quirky character, Harris' counterpart appears more somber and action-prone: a cross between Father Merrin and Van Helsing. Though it takes half the movie for him to make a substantial appearance, he becomes the story's savior, and in more ways than one, for his determination gives the plot an aura of tension and sophistication, making the proceedings credible, despite their extraordinary nature.

To add to the dilemma, Cartlett's nervous brother creates an overcoming-one's-fear motif. Whether he's battling a frightening doll or a monstrous tree, it's easy to see through his eyes and admire his courage when he must journey forth to rescue his sister.

Unfortunately, a wonderful opportunity is missed by not exploring the other dimension: a fault that can also be attributed to the original film and its sequels. In the "Twilight Zone" adaptation of Matheson's story, we're at least granted a view of the abstract, psychedelic world in which the poor girl wanders. An extrapolation on this concept would have added a unique touch to the new film and have justifiably padded its running time.

As it stands, the new "Poltergeist" runs roughly a hour and twenty minutes. Its brevity makes it feel like a television movie, stripped of commercials, of course. This is not to say the film is skimpy in content or ineffective in its rehashed scares; however, in comparison to the Hooper film, it feels incomplete.

The lasting impact of "Poltergeist 2015" is yet to be seen, but it seems destined to become like other, potential franchise restarters: "The Amityville Horror", "The Fog", "Friday the 13th", "A Nightmare on Elm Street" and "The Omen". 

As long as it makes a profit, that should suffice, and horror fans should certainly give it a whirl, but as far as rattling the pop-cultural chains of innovation, this one, at best, will go down as an also-ran among this year's summer releases: no shame in that, but no victory, either.

Monday, May 25, 2015

An Alternate Reality #5: I saw Tomorrowland...

Disney's "Tomorrowland", based on its legendary, theme-park attraction and directed by Brad ("The Incredibles"/"Iron Giant") Bird, is an essay in conflict and optimism, though surely more so the latter after its events reach fruition. 

The story, as conveyed by middle-age Frank Walker (George Clooney) projects a future that could have been and may very well yet exist in some parallel plane. Walter, we learn, was granted access to this illustrious world after presenting his Rocketeer knock-off jetpack at the 1964 NY World's Fair's Hall of Invention. With the eventual help of its "curator", David Nix (Hugh Laurie), and an eager but mysterious, "adolescent", Athena (Raffey Cassidy), Walter seizes the chance to ensure a better tomorrow, until we learn his plans have gone astray.

Frank's story coincides with a current-day one: that of teenager Casey Newton (Britt Robinson), who also seeks a prosperous future. Her conviction gets her in trouble, however, particularly after a NASA break-in, but it also interferes on a more basic level when she dares to question her closed-minded teachers on the alleged inevitability of war and climate change, in addition to the likelihood that we're forever doomed to dystopian imprisonment. 

Her zeal is detected by the futuristic Athena, and to link her to the grand cause, she's slipped a World's Fair pin, which when touched, grants access to another world, full of splendors and accomplishments. From there, she tracks down Walter to accompany him on a mission to ensure a superior world. This mission, however, may also be Walker's chance at redemption, since it appears he shares blame in why Tomorrowland never sustained stability. 

Through Casey and Walter's journey, we are treated to sleek action sequences and ample science-fiction hardware, which should please even the most jaded viewers. At least none of the glitz diminishes the film's message, though for those of an indolent inclination, offense might be taken.

This is because "Tomorrowland's" script (as meticulously rendered by Bird, Damon Lindelof and Jeff Jenson) insists that we don't sit on our duffs to improve the world, or that we should simply let others refashion it for their off-the-cuff designs. 

On the downside, the film borders on excessive positivism, especially when it emphasizes intellectualism as a prime means to saving the world. Let's face it: the likes of Ming the Merciless and Adolf Hitler were "intellectual" in their villainy. Even a number of our current "leaders" can't (or simply won't) distinguish right from wrong, going so far as to rob charitable causes and overlook acts of atrocity in the name of appeasement. "Tomorrowland's" emphasis, in this regard, is shamefully misguided. 

Still, the film's "Star Trek" inspired notion that honorable people should work together for a just cause, churns a soothing appeal, even when the film meanders into annoying naivete. In fact, by its climax, "Tomorrowland" blindly embraces the "power of positive thinking" without an iota of apology, reinforcing its slant with a dash of "Close Encounters" and "This Island Earth" for those keen enough to discern the influences. 

On a more important note, "Tomorrowland" embodies the aspirations of a gone-by era, which the insightful Walt Disney would have approved. Yes, regardless of what the naysayers proclaim, we can reach our goals, including such fanciful developments as flying machines, robots and even inter-dimensional travel, but only if we believe...only if we work hard to achieve.  
That's a terrific message to relay in a time when apathy sometimes seems the common thread. "Tomorrowland" stands out because it tells us to "dream the impossible dream", and if we dare do so, the fruits of our imaginative labor could very well multiply a thousandfold.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Collectible Time #25: Jonathan Myers Studio Imagine8 Bilbo Baggins Print and Jessie Gutierrez Horror Comics

Two more of my Facebook friends have supplied some nifty creations for my collection, which I'm most anxious to share. 

Jonathan Myers helms Studio Imagine8, where he specializes in rendering the startling likeness of action-adventure characters, including those of Edgar Rice Burroughs, J.R.R. Tolkien, Dr. Who, Star Wars and DC/Marvel superheroes. 

Above is Bilbo Baggins: Myers' homage to actor, Martin Freeman, in what the artist calls "The Sting". As you can see, the image embodies the precise likeness of the famed hobbit's movie counterpart. Measuring a suitable 11" x 17", the print is a stylish piece for any fantasy-adventure fan to own. Classy!!!

Next up are two, horror/mystery-based comics from my buddy, Jesse Gutierrez. Gutierrez holds a vast knowledge of foreign imagi-movies, including those of Dario Argento, Mario Bava, Jess Franco and Amando de Ossorio. He also inserts voluptuous maidens into his yarns, styled after those seen in classic Euroshock and Hammer movies. This specialized, retro blend is most evident in "The Phantom of the Barrio" and "Zombie Quinceanera". I highly recommend both. 

In fact, Gutierrez' comics flow like movie storyboards, and if given the chance to get behind the camera, I do believe he'd more than hold his own with Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino.

You can visit Facebook for more information on both artists, by typing their names at the source, or going to their Facebook work-based pages: in Myers' case, at Studio Imagine8, and for Gutierrez, at Bandido Studios. You'll be happy you visited. There are loads of inspiring visuals to behold from both talented men. 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

I saw Mad Max...

Times were a-changin' in the '70s: a legal switch had struck in various sectors, leaving victims at the whim of their assailants. Justice was dealt, but not accordingly, with impunity the growing norm. Pop-culture reflected this imbalance, and where reality couldn't fix matters, movies  like "Dirty Harry" and "Death Wish" could. The need for such a cinematic remedy streached even to Australia, where the hunger for a hero raged equally strong. 

The first "Mad Max" surfaced in '79, and became a huge hit in its homeland. Written and directed by George Miller, it tells the tale of a near-future police officer, Max Rockatansky, portrayed by Mel Gibson (in his first leading role). We see Max grow mad thanks to a failing criminal system: his best friend set aflame by a sniveling thug; his wife and child run down by heartless cretins during a rural sojourn.

In Miller's sequels, "Mad Max 2/Road Warrior" and "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome", the bad guys have multiplied to the point of ruling the landscape, seizing commodities from those who have justly earned and nurtured them, terrorizing and slaughtering the innocent and beguiling the naive and desperate with false hope, only then to shackle them. 

Max enters these woeful pockets by chance, with a heart hardened by pain and a reluctance to befriend anyone in fear that they, too, might be taken from him. He also acts as a reluctant savior to many: like Alan Ladd's Shane, wandering into their vulnerable nests to teach them how to fight, survive and believe that virtue still has a place in world gone as mad as he.  

Miller's new Max, "Fury Road", stars Tom Hardy in the title role, in an adventure that some consider a prequel and others label as a re-imaging. The script, penned by Miller, Nico Lathouris and Brendan McCarthy, contains the same rough-and-tough elements that distinguish the Gibson trilogy, with the nomadic Max once more caught between factions in a battle over a special commodity...but this time it's more than mere oil or water. 

It's a group of young women (Courtney Easton; Rosie Huntington-Whiteley; Riley Keough; Zoe Kravitz; and Abbey Lee Kershaw): a special breed, or so were told, kept to birth a race of totalitarian crackpots...or if the better opportunity arises, humankind's salvation, as long as they can get to a safe place. Max, who's imprisoned by their blood-craving captors, joins the ladies' cause, trekking with them across the desert via a mighty rig. This jaunt occurs, however, only when the resourceful Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) deters an order to steal crude from a neighboring group. 

Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne: the vile Toecutter in the original Max) is the new adversary, and like previous Max villains, is formidable and frightening. With his toothy half-mask and shock-punk hair, he invokes "Hellraiser'"s Chatterer; "American Horror Story'"s Twisty the Clown; and such Dark Knight foes as the Joker and ironically enough, Hardy's Bane. 

Throughout it all, Furiosa becomes as much a force against Joe as Max, and she and her escapees become the adventure's inspirational point: their quest empowered by a quiet kind of religious fervor, which stands in stark contrast to their adversaries' violent, misguided zeal. It's also the sort of conviction that might make our current crop of editorializing newscasters and comedians wince, but the need to believe in something greater than the merciless norm--to find a reason to endure in the face of chaos--is an essential component to surviving Max's post-apocalyptic hell. 

Hardy's portrayal of Max captures Gibson's nuances and essential look and to our benefit, he never once tries to reinvent the character. On the whole, Max is as cool as any action hero could hope to be, but he's also an "everyman": yet the victim and easy to identify with and champion because of his humble design. 

"Fury Road" also furthers Miller's queue of quirky co-characters, such as Nicolas Hoult as the pasty-faced Nux and Nathan Jones as the towering Rictus Erectus. Some of these participants are good; some bad, and parenthesize Max and Furiosa's ongoing presence. The good ones, however, wish to live their lives without impediment, but must fight for that right. On this basis, they gain our empathy and respect.

Considering our current, global scene seems swayed in favor of the criminal sect (certainly more so than when the original Max was released), "Fury Road" arrives at a perfect time and on this basis, demands continuation. However, even if such doesn't occur, "Max IV" stands as a testament to the ideal that, as long as good people persevere, so will justice. Sometimes we only need a Max to show us the way, and often we find he's not waiting in some distant, dusty locale to appear, but rather for that glorious chance to roar from out our flustered hearts. 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Collection Recommendation #1: Bloke's Terrible Tomb of Terror

For those of you who grew up with such wonderful Warren Publishing Company titles as Eerie, Creepy...Vampirella comes a periodical in direct homage to those melodramatic masterpieces...Bloke's Terrible Tomb of Terror!!!

The host of these Ghastly Award winning, black-and-white installments is the Bloke, a Victorian undertaker, who sports a remarkable resemblance to the magazine's creator, Jason Crawley. The Bloke (who's sometimes accompanied by his striking companion, Ms. Ghoulgeous) adds wry wit and good-nature menace to the tales, the majority of which are penned by Crawley who makes certain they're jammed with ferocious monsters, curvaceous females and haunting scenarios. 

The artists are a who's who of masters and include Caesar Antomattei, Samuel Argo, Jeff Austin, Rock Baker, Trevor Denham, Emanuel Derna, Salavdor Lopez Donaire, Mike Hoffman, Rob Moran, Nik Poliwko, Kevin George Tuma, Paul Rose, et al. 

I recently received Issue #12 (see above). If that cover doesn't reel you in, I don't know what will! 

Without question, Tomb of Terror is a dark dream come true for any devoted horror fan. You can order issues from Etsy or Amazon, either in e-book or  printed form. (Crawley also has other neat items for purchase, including t-shirts and large prints of Tomb's splendidly lurid covers!!!)